RIOT Helps Create Michelin’s “Road of Tomorrow”

RIOT has teamed with Detroit agency Campbell-Ewald and Lucy Films to create an inspired new campaign for Michelin that offers a peak inside an imaginary ‘workshop’ where ‘the road of tomorrow is being created today.’ RIOT, which practices a unique, integrated approach to digital production, produced the complex spot, aside from the live action elements, e, antirely in-house, providing design, production supervision, animation, visual effects and post production services.

The spot highlights Michelin work to improve tires and make the world a better place. It opens with a grand, aerial view of the Michelin workshop and then journeys inside where Michelin Man is testing tires and installing recycled rubber material in a children playground to communicate the company commitment to finding alternative uses for end-of-life tires. At the end of the spot, the Michelin Man invites a woman to driver her car out of the workshop and into the idyllic countryside beyond.

RIOT Cris Blyth served as Creative Director on the project and said its intent is to differentiate the Michelin brand from other tire makers through the company commitment to safety and environmental leadership. ‘The spot is lighthearted in tone but it also delivers a serious message about the precision work being undertaken by Michelin engineers,’ he said.

RIOT became involved in the project during its conceptual stage and assisted Campbell-Ewald creative team in designing the Michelin workshop as well as many other environmental elements for the spot. ‘We designed a building that we thought Michelin would be proud to actually build,’ Blyth said. ‘We experimented with a number of motifs before settling on the dome.’

In addition to their use in the commercial, RIOT designs for the Michelin workshop and its operations are being incorporated into the company general branding. A new microsite, has been launched, based on the workshop design. (The spot and a behind-the-scenes ‘making of’ video are among the features of the microsite.)

The live action portions of the project were produced by Lucy Films with RIOT providing on-set supervision. They included a helicopter shoot at Tejon Ranch near Los Angeles to capture the background environment for the exterior view of the workshop. The workshop itself was a CG element as were the two strips of highway and lines of cars that appear in the foreground of the shot. The production team also spent a day on a stage shooting actors, cars, a playground set and other elements, most of which were composited into the workshop interior.

Significantly, the live action shoots occurred after the designs of the digital elements were complete. ‘Typically, live action elements are shot at the beginning of the project,’ observed RIOT Executive Producer Mathew McManus. ‘In this instance, the shoot was largely predicated on the design of the Michelin Man city and the pre-vis. We worked through those issues before we shot. Focusing on the creative aspects first gave us the greatest flexibility. We weren’st locked into what production had shot.’

Meanwhile, the studio animation department was busy creating and animating the Michelin Man characters. Although CG versions of the character have appeared in other Michelin spots, this was by far the most extensive use of CG as more than a dozen of the characters are used, several of whom interact directly with live action characters.

The Michelin Man unique profile?‚àö√ë‚àö√Ühe is meant to resemble a stack of tires?‚àö√ë‚àö√Üdictated the approach to the animation. ‘We segmented the character into a series of geometric shapes,’ noted RIOT CG Supervisor Andy Wilkoff. ‘That allowed us to automate parts of the animation and make what could have been a cumbersome process proceed quickly and smoothly.’

The animation process was also helped by the multidisciplinary background of RIOT artists. ‘The artists who modeled the characters are also very good animators and modeled it with animation in mind,’ said Blyth. ‘That was a massive benefit.’

RIOT employs a variety of software tools to accomplish different technical functions and creative tasks with maximum ease and flexibility. On this project, it employed Maya, 3D Studio Max and Lightwave for various animation functions, V-ray for lighting and rendering, and Digital Fusion for compositing. To ensure the seamless transfer of files, RIOT programmers wrote proprietary links between the various software. Having ready access to a variety of tools was key to the animators’s ability to create the spot unique look.

RIOT also introduced innovation into the compositing process as its 2D team worked to integrate hundreds of live action and CG elements. ‘Our focus was to have everything come together as seamlessly as possible,’ recalled RIOT Digital Effects Supervisor Andy Lesniak.

RIOT pipeline also includes DI for color correction. DI Colorist Siggy Ferstl set an initial look for the live action elements and that became the basis for the animators in setting the look of the digital elements.

After the spot was composited, Ferstl used the studio da Vinci Resolve system for final color grading of the composited material. At RIOT, the Resolve is mounted to a central server that is shared with the VFX department. That allowed Ferstl to access updated changes to digital files as they were made by the animation team. Using da Vinci ColorTrace, Ferstl was able to synchronize complex color grades, which included tracking information and nested dynamics, onto the new shot versions that the VFX department was continuously feeding him.

‘Workflow is such an important part of what we do,’ Ferstl said. ‘The Resolve speed and flexibility allowed me to deliver the commercial on time, while its color toolset gave me the freedom to create.’

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